Pretty young Nurse Mary Greer suddenly found herself the center of a shocking scandal that brought a bitter attack on her professional integrity, an end to her engagement to Paul Tate and threatened Paul’s chances of being the next mayor of the town of Port West. When wealthy old Mr. Clarke left his fortune to the nursing home where Mary worked he disinherited a conniving niece and a weakling nephew who weren’t about to let their uncle’s riches slip through their fingers. Their charges of “undue influence” against Mary and the home brought Nurse Greer’s fighting spirit to the fore. But they also brought pressures from Paul who urged Mary to compromise her principles and avoid any further unpleasantness. After all, Paul was running for office and he valued public opinion, perhaps even more than truth. Truth mattered to Mary, mattered more than anything. And so he rolled up her sleeves and prepared to fight it out—alone, if necessary. She found a valiant ally in Bill Underwood, a newspaper man with an eye for a good story, an innate respect for truth and, as it turned out, a grade A case on Nurse Greer.
“Know any girls, Pop? She can be old or young, fat or lean, just as long as she can cook and wash socks properly and keep a fellow’s shoes in order.”
“Girls kill. You think they don’t, Son. You walk up the aisle with them and you smell the orange blossoms and you see ’em in white and you say to yourself, ‘Say! This is pretty durn good.’ Only thing is, they kill. You start supporting ’em, Son. And it goes on year after year. And you grow old. And you tucker out, and the first thing you know you’re dead, and there they are spending the insurance they made you buy.”
“She was very attractive. He liked the feathery arrangement of her auburn hair, the animation of her sparkling hazel eyes. He liked the tan gabardine suit she wore. He liked her figure. His intensely male nature was charmed, and then she smiled coolly and she became merely another woman to him.”
“ ‘That will be fine, Bill. Just toot your horn and I’ll come scampering.’ Really, she thought later, she’d sounded positively eager and desperate! Her mother, of course agreed. ‘Oh, fine,’ she exclaimed in Mary’s bedroom. ‘A man crooks a finger and you go running. Don’t you remember any of the things I’ve taught you? A decent, maidenly reserve! One time in ten, perhaps, a pleasant yes, but only if the fellow has worked hard for it, and only with the sweet air of making a very kind and generous concession.’ ”
“In another age, he thought, she’d have made a fine pirate.”
“You may have my permission to seize your dreadful instruments and have at my poor, helpless body.”
“Lord love men, she thought, they were strange.”
“I was so sure that if I could just dress decently I’d make a nice marriage.”
Nowhere will you find more terminally ill wealthy people than in nurse novels, and Mary Greer is yet another kind, generous nurse benefitting from a last-minute discussion with an attorney. It’s curious that the author bothered to make her a legatee at all, however, since Mary’s “inheritance” is the promise of a job at the nursing home where she currently works—indeed, it is pointed out by several people throughout the book that since she already has what the will is promising her, she isn’t really benefitting at all. But the nursing home where she works will receive enough money to build and run another building where poor elderly people can take up residence, and it is for this ideal that Mary takes up her sword when dear dead Mr. Clarke’s scoundrel relatives, niece and nephew Harriet and Frank Clarke, threaten a lawsuit to block the will unless the nursing home agrees to give them half the estate.
Enter Paul Tate, Mary’s fiancé, who is running for Mayor of Port West. He’s behind in the polls, and tells Mary that the scandal that a lawsuit against her would bring will damage his campaign, and he asks her to settle. She, of course, is appalled that he would sell out the old folks so quickly, and their engagement comes to an abrupt end when she goes to the local newspaper and gives them a statement to that effect. But all is not lost for Mary’s love life; in the course of breaking off publicly with Paul, Mary meets Bill Underwood, the newspaper’s editor, and they soon start dating. She admires his dogged pursuit of the truth, and his restraint in not publishing everything he knows, and that he stands by her when she has her day in court. There she pulls out her trump card, a letter written to her by the late Mr. Clarke, which she reads aloud—up to a point, where she stops and asks Harriet Clarke if she should continue, it being clear that Mr. Clarke is about to reveal a certain breach of ethics on his niece’s part. Harriet instantly decides to drop the suit, and soon the architects are breaking ground on the new nursing home building.
Now Paul is back again, his interest in Mary rising with his numbers in the polls. Mary agrees to go on a picnic with him, but she is not as wild about him as she used to be. We’re not, either; he has a penchant for saying things like, “Up and at ’em, woman. History says it’s women who get the meals on the tables for mighty men.” But Bill has stopped calling Mary, so she reluctantly agrees to a few evenings with Paul. In the interim, Paul has found a discrepancy in the town’s accounting—$100,000 has gone missing. He’s not elaborating on the details, just saying that it’s up to the present mayor to explain. The mayor is saying that he never took any money and can’t explain the discrepancy, and it’s starting to look like Paul might actually win the election, after all. He asks Mary to marry him again, but she’s not biting. “What would happen if once again he had to choose between that love he talked of so glibly, and the political success he seemed to be on the verge of scoring?” Take a wild guess, honey.
But she’s saved from actually answering the question by the telephone: It’s the mayor, inviting her to City Hall for an important meeting. It turns out that Harriet Clarke is threatening to reveal that she made a $500 contribution to Paul’s campaign in exchange for his attempt to persuade Mary to split the estate with her. Harriet will not talk if Mary will give Harriet the letter Mr. Clarke wrote, thereby eliminating any evidence against Harriet. Mary instantly refuses to hand over the letter, choosing honesty over protecting Paul’s campaign. So Harriet tells Bill that the missing money is really just an error of accounting—the money isn’t really gone, it’s just in the wrong account. When Bill prints this in the paper, Paul is forced to withdraw from the race. He then tries to salvage the other thing he’s lost, his relationship with Mary, but she tells him that she thinks he was cheap to tarnish the mayor’s reputation when he knew that the mayor hadn’t stolen any money, that he was fickle to dump her when he thought it would hurt his prospects. And she conveniently decides that she never really loved him in the first place. I hate that; the plot device that insists that what she felt for the man she doesn’t choose wasn’t real love.
This book is better than most nurse novels. It has an actual theme—honesty vs. convenience—and even works hard to present Paul’s case as being an acceptable course of action, suggesting that Paul may have made a better mayor than the incumbent, and that he had chosen the best course of action, despite its moral dubiousness, to achieve that grand—and good—goal. It offers some amusing and sparkling writing, a very spirited appreciation for nursing as a professional calling, and even a very touching section about an elderly patient of Mary’s who dies of cancer. The characters are drawn well, if perhaps a bit too lightly: I admired Mary’s spine, but wished she’d smacked Paul’s face when he ordered her to set the table; I loved bad-girl Harriet, but wished she’d showed more claws. The ending was especially nice, a rarity in these formulaic novels. Joan Garrison only wrote one other nurse novel that I could find, Rehabilitation Nurse, but after Nurse Greer I will pick up that book with high hopes.